The other night I lay awake in bed. My thoughts began to wonder, and I pursued the question of what I’d say if I got to travel back in time and speak to my 10 year old self.
My first instinctive thoughts should have been to tell her to study that little bit harder in school, or be a kinder older sister, or even tell those middle school bullies where to shove it when I only thought of the comebacks after they left.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think any of those thoughts initially.
I wondered what it would have been like if I told her to start dieting at that age instead.
Would I have been happier if I was skinnier teenager? Not being the chubby kid in my class, the one that was always picked last in sports, or the one who never dared to tight-fitting clothes when the other girls did?
At age 10, I was beginning to wonder the same thing. Until then, I had the biggest sweet tooth. I’m talking Augustus-Gloop-level of chocolate loving- there was never a shopping trip with my parents that was safe from me smuggling a Snickers bar into the shopping trolley.
But Snickers never shone a light on my mum’s baked chocolate peanut butter cheesecake.
Simple, but oh-so decadent. Mum would mix thick spoonfuls of peanut butter in with melted dark chocolate and cream cheese, and whatever else needed to make it into a cake, then serve it fresh out of the oven with a dollop of cream. It was my favourite- I was the one to take the first slice, and the last.
Mum made it only for special occasions. Birthdays, Christmas, or if I asked very politely “mum can we please have cheesecake for tomorrow night’s dessert?”, and I’d sit in front of the oven watching it rise with glee.
I haven’t eaten mum’s cheesecake for eight years. Or, I hadn’t allowed myself to eat it for that long.
So, dear 10 year old me. I know it wasn’t long after these memories that you became sick. You didn’t think you were sick at the time, you just thought you were trying to become better. Everywhere you looked, there were beautiful, skinny, slender girls. Would I tell you to try and look like those girls, that you’d be happier if you gave up the foods you loved?
You stopped eating the foods you loved, especially mum’s cheesecake. You’d wait until she’s not looking and slide your piece back on to the platter. You lied that you just didn’t like it anymore, so she eventually stopped making it.
You lied about most sweets then, making up excuses that you felt sick or that you hated the taste so you didn’t give in to temptation. You joined your school’s rowing team, but not because you loved the sport, or wanted to make friends, but so you could exercise to burn calories.
You were 16 when people began to notice.
Over the Summer, you made a food diary. You allowed yourself to eat an apple for breakfast, a carrot for lunch, and a small serving of what mum cooked for dinner (only if it was not friend, did not have butter in it, or cream). 800 calories is all you could have in a day, even on the days you spent hours on the gym’s treadmill. You lost 10 kilograms over Summer break.
When school started again, everyone commented on how much weight you lost. They asked how you did it, and how amazing you were. You could borrow your friend’s clothes, and not just their baggy ones. You were moved up to your rowing club’s first division because you were suddenly lighter and faster on the erg than ever.
You were skinny. And you thought you’d be finally healthy, and happy.
That’s what those thin, beautiful models on Instagram say, don’t they?
What they never told you was this was an eating disorder. What your family and friends didn’t see was the constant coldsores and sniffles you’d get because your immune system was so compromised. They couldn’t see you constantly losing focus in class, or that you hadn’t had your last two periods. They didn’t understand why you quickly dropped out of the top boat at rowing, and your coach couldn’t pick up why you could no longer keep up with the other girls in your team.
Nobody guessed it, because you looked healthy. You still weren’t underweight, so you couldn’t have an eating disorder.
But every thought you had was consumed by food. What you ate, and what you were going to eat. You started to give in and binge eat. The scars on my arms have healed where you would cut yourself as punishment- as a reminder that you can’t let yourself give in to cravings.
And how could you avoid thinking these things? It feels like everywhere you looked you were told you had to look a certain way to be accepted.
But I hope you know it doesn’t have to be like this. It will get better.
At times it feels like a losing battle- the media will constantly portray the same unattainable body with false promises that when you’re a size 6, you’ll be happy. It’s so engrained in the culture around us, this self destructive mind-set. In 2014, health and weight-loss industries made $6.6 billion in Australia alone. In the last 40 years, up to 70% of models used in the media had been classed as underweight, with it now becoming more common for company’s to use CGI models to deepen their hold on desire to look like something other than ourselves.
But this battle is not lost. You’ll soon create a more supportive space on social media, where dieticians will speak out against this toxic diet culture. Celebrities will come forward and show their unedited, unphotoshopped images, and you’ll realise they look just like you. They have cellulite, and fat rolls. And you will love yourself unconditionally, stretch marks and all.
I’m nowhere near the weight I used to be when I was 16. But I love my sport, and I love my food. Food is fuel, and it’s my freedom. It’s not showing a sign of weakness when you go back for seconds at dinner, or eat dessert. I love every stretch mark on my thigh, and I love the way my body is authentically and uniquely my own.
I hope you don’t make the same decisions I did growing up, spending years obsessing about food and the way your stomach looks in a crop top. It will look so good on you, trust me. If I had the chance to speak to my past self, where I looked down at her chubby cheeks and big blue eyes, I could never bring myself to tell that child she wasn’t pretty enough to wear it.
This Christmas, I’ll ask mum to make her chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, and I might even have two slices of it. And I’ll savour every bite, not thinking about the calories for a single second of it. And I hope that child would be so proud of who I have become.